The World According to PW: The Right NOT to Vote

i was in college when the whole “Vote or Die” campaign was going on, a movement largely to try and get Bush out of office.  Understandable.  I was sort of interested, sort of galvanized.  It probably got me to pay attention a little more than I might have otherwise, to critically examine my vote.  I should note that 2004 was the first Presidential election I was eligible to vote for.

I ended up not voting in the 2004 election.  I did vote in the 2008 election.  I did not vote in 2012.  I have never voted in a midterm election, outside of specific ballot propositions I felt strongly about (i.e. gay marriage equality).  I do this because I apply critical thought to my vote – I believe the right to vote is just that, a right, and should be treated with a certain amount of respect.  In the end, a democracy is as good as its populace – the better the vote, the better the democracy.  But what are we supposed to do when the democracy begins to erode, and the options provided are insufficient?  That’s become my major concern – the options we’re presented between candidates are shockingly subpar, to the point that people commonly refer to “choosing the lesser evil” when it comes to the vote.  I cannot stand for that.

Voting is an integral part of a democracy; it’s the part where the populace basically implicitly extends permission to those in power, via the vote.  We put out our vote, and by doing so, we claim responsibility – or at least implicit agreement – over the system in place.  By voting, we take part in a process, therefore validating said process.  If we vote, we are party to the results.  And as the political system of America continues to slowly crumble, pebble by pebble, people keep voting.  Not only do people keep voting, but I see more voting propaganda than I’ve ever seen before.  Not vote?  GASP!  What sort of person thinks like that?

Here’s the thing.  I don’t always vote.  I abstain because it is my right to abstain, and I believe it is especially important to abstain when you cannot support the options given.  Continuing with what I said above, I believe that the only way to truly affect change in the modern democracy is to abstain from it.  Think about it.  We can talk all we want about the vote, but if both candidates end up being hyperpartisan buffoons who can’t begin to imagine life on Main Street and are clearly bought by Wall Street, what’s the best solution?  Is it to trot out 30% to vote for one or the other?  Is it to write in some hapless third-party candidate who won’t win?  I think it’s simply to not vote.  Is that unreasonable to you?  To think that situation is possible?  Because Congress has a 15-20% approval rating last time I checked, and the country re-elected more than 90% of their Congressmen.  Isn’t that the definition of insanty – to repeat the same action and expect a different result?  And yet, here we are.

Regardless of how powerful those in power may be, they require the vote.  It’s a critical part of the American democratic process, and it’s a crucial part of the half-illusion that the people have any control over anything.  But voting has largely become a sideshow – it’s almost entirely symbolic, because the game is rigged between powerful candidates that aren’t that different from each other, and while they may speak to Main Street on the campaign trail, the truth is that the lobbyists run the show.  Even the most promising of candidates end up owned by lobbyists in the end, it seems.  So how do we fight that?

We fight it by not voting.  That might sound radical, but go with me here.  Voting is of huge symbolic importance.  Per above, it’s the people’s implicit agreement to the system as it is.  As long as we vote, we take part in and honor the system as it is.  And the system, I think most people would (hopefully) say, is failing.  Sure, it’s not terrible bad, but it’s not working as intended.  The only change?  Stop voting.

Really.  Stop voting.  Or just vote on what’s important to you – like state/region/city proposals that actually will affect your life.  But stop voting for people, for characters on TV.  Stop giving them power.  You want that power back?  Take it back by not voting.  Think about it as an observer.  If the candidates suck and only 15% come out to vote, does it mean anything?  Not really.  But imagine for a moment, that there are two terrible candidates… and everyone wakes up, and no votes end up tallied.  The system is completely predicated on the vote.  The system stops without the vote.  The greatest message we have is our vote.  Take it back.

There’s a reason that voting propaganda is going up and up during this hyperpartisan era of politics.  That reason is because the powerful realize how important the vote is.  They want people voting.  They especially want dumb people voting.  Sorry to anyone offended by that, but let’s face it – how many people actually educate themselves on the issues?  Did you read up on your Congressman and his opponent in the recent midterm election?  Can you give me a detailed synopsis of what both of them stand for, what their primary initiatives would be?  Because if you can’t, you’re an irresponsible voter.

Just because something is a right doesn’t mean it’s an automatic given – these things often have to be earned and worked for.  Rights are ideals, things to honor and strive for.  We have a right to the pursuit of happiness; that doesn’t guarantee happiness.  We have the right to marry; it doesn’t guarantee a husband or wife for everyone.  We have the right to vote; it doesn’t mean everyone should vote.  I support some sort of voter qualification act, be it an online exam or something else readily available and accessible.  The founding fathers never meant for all men to vote; they intended a republic, not a democracy.  I disagree with denying the vote based on things like gender or race, of course; but I do think there should be a qualifying metric – the country would be the better for it.

But this will never come from the top – the people in power like the system as it is.  There’s a class of people who have gotten incredibly rich by manipulating the system, and they continue to do so right now.  And they want everyone voting.  They want people who react to soundbytes and hysteria and don’t take the time to research.  I think about my ex-wife, who had many lovely qualities, but one thing that bugged me to no end – she voted.  Not once in our marriage did we ever have a constructive discussion on politics; she didn’t like to talk about it and she didn’t take time to educate herself on it.  I don’t mind not talking politics with a partner, but I’d hope they’d be knowledgeable about their world.  Anyway, she always voted.  I’d ask her why – “Because my daddy always told me I should.”  That was her reason.  And to her credit, she’d do a minor crash course on the issues prior to an election, but nothing detailed enough to go far past the soundbytes.  To be fair, she did come from a pretty liberal family that tended to vote the party line, and that’s a very similar problem to what I’m describing right now, besides.  Vote because you know what you’re voting for; not because you’re voting the way you always vote, or how your mom voted, or because you heard a soundbyte, or because a celebrity filmed a hip commercial.  Respect your vote – it’s more powerful than you think.

I always think of Dead Poets Society when I think about this.  There’s a scene about conformity that is probably my favorite scene in the movie.  Robin Williams’ character takes his class out to the courtyard, and he tells them all to walk.  He places no restrictions on them, telling them to walk however they feel like; they have the right to walk.  After a bit, he notices Charlie leaning against a pillar, and asks him if he’ll be joining the exercise.  With a grin, Charlie responds – “exercising the right not to walk.”  Williams smiles and nods.  “Thank you, Mr. Dalton.  You just illustrated the point.”  And that’s my point here, in this post.  The right not to vote is just as important as the right to vote.  Knowing when not to vote is just as important as knowing when to vote.  Do not let anyone tell you that you should vote, or that you have to vote; if anything, remind them that they are not required to pick between two uninspiring candidates.  After all, as soon as everyone has to vote, is required to vote, the vote loses its power.  Never let it come to that.

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The World According to PW: Prepare for the Inevitable Snowpocalypses!

So, The World According to PW is my soapbox rants.  I’ll try to stay on point, try to be relevant, but in the end, it’s about whatever’s bugging me in a given week.  I was going to go on about voting today, about certain political views I have, but I’l save that for later now, because something else struck my nerve today.

I popped onto weather.com before leaving work, to check what the overnight low would be, and see what the weekend forecast was for Minneapolis, as I plan to be out and about some this weekend.  I was greeted by this image:

polarinvasion

And this set me off.  Well, it prompted this post.  Because, if you haven’t noticed, over the past… oh, three or so years, it seems like, every minor weather fluctuation is AN EMERGENCY.  It’s not so much the blatant headline grabs, like the “snowpocalypses” of my subject line, but the minor language use of sites like weather.com.

Look at the language in play here – the polar air invasion.  That’s aggressive language, meant to invoke fear and trepidation.  The polar air is invading.  It’s hostile!  It’s coming for your children!  But… not really.  The polar air in question is simply being pushed by a typhoon in the Pacific (all typhoons are in the Pacific, by the way).  It’s a fairly normal weather event, although the typhoon in question – Nuri – is definitely a big one.  But still, it’s just a typhoon rolling towards Alaska, which is in turn giving that north Canadian air a firm kick southward.  It’s basic cause-and-effect.

What it is not, however, is some sort of arctic invasion.  In fact, the only thing that this is going to result in is some November snow (which is a normal thing) and some cold temps – highs in the 20s.  None of which are particularly abnormal for Minnesota in November.  Sure, they’re a slap in the face right now, since we’re sitting happy in the 40s and low 50s, but we’ve had some luck with a pretty mild fall this year.

This leads me to my greater observation about weather reporting.  Climate change aside, and I can get into that another time, the way weather is reported has changed.  In this media-driven society we live in now, soundbytes and headlines get hits and ratings; responsible estimates do not.  I’ve been aware of this trend especially over the last three years, when I started bicycling to work, and have noticed the language used for weather reporting growing more and more aggressive and threatening.  There’s no such thing as a simple storm anymore; everything is advertised as some kind of potential catastrophe.  Watch the national weather forecasts this winter, especially, and see what I mean.  Any storm that has the potential to drop 3″ or more of snow will be heralded as some kind of seasonal doom.

I suppose all we can do, then, as consumers of media, is choose responsible avenues to get our news from.  In Minnesota, we have the benefit of Paul Douglas, who does excellent work for the Star-Tribune, tempering national or regional forecasts with his own scientific background and his long-term anecdotal knowledge from living in the region for decades.  It’s refreshing to see someone take a look at the big forecasts and spin them more responsibly.  Sometimes it’s sobering, but it’s almost always good reading, and reasonably accurate.  When the nation is bracing for the next Snowpocalypse, I’m glad I can read someone who’ll look at the same stuff and say, “Yeah, maybe, but probably not.  Relax.”  Weather can be a terrifying thing, no doubt – the raw power of nature is absolutely sublime… but we shouldn’t be manipulated by irresponsible reporting to fear it.  So sit back, when the snow comes.  Get a hot cup of tea or coffee, or warm up some cider or brandy.  Sit down and watch it fall, and enjoy whatever aspects of winter you do.  Sit on a balcony and listen to the crisp crunching of it falling.  But enjoy it.  Because we can’t control it, and while I advocate weather awareness, I don’t think we should be worried about any polar invasions.

Is there justice in the media?

I’ve been a little troubled lately, ever since the Aaron Hernandez news broke a couple weeks ago.  Life happens; bad things happen to people both deserving and undeserving every day.  That’s not in question.  Nor is the possibility of anything in question, really.  But I was surprised at how quickly the media turned on Hernandez, and more than a little shocked by the Patriots dropping him within hours of his arrest.  An arrest, after all, is not a conviction; an arrest is done on suspicion.  You can argue that an arrest is enough; that an organization has the right to maintain a certain image if they want.  But as soon as I saw the story break, my immediate thought was to Ray Lewis, who was arrested on suspicion of murder a little more than a decade ago, in an episode that is, for the most part, markedly similar to Hernandez’s situation.  There are two major differences so far that I see; first, the district attorney in the Hernandez case seems to want to make a headline of it and a name for himself by throwing the book at Hernandez, and second, Ray Lewis’s team stood by him.  This changes the picture; the Ravens stood by Lewis, for better or worse, a fact that probably, in hindsight now, played heavily into public opinion.  Hernandez got thrown under the bus by the team that drafted him and has employed him; this, conversely, makes him look guilty in the court of public opinion.

Hernandez may be guilty.  He may not.  But the way his case has moved through the media fascinates me, and the way the NFL in particular has treated him is at least kind of horrifying.  This is the man’s trade, after all.  It’s not as if he’s a cashier who got dumped by Kroger’s after being arrested; he could be acquitted and find new employment over at Walgreen’s.  If he’s acquitted, his name in the NFL is tarnished and he has nowhere else to go.  Oh, sure, someone will take a flier on him ultimately, but it’s a valid question to ask if he can get past this, if he is.

Two of his former college teammates, the Pouncey brothers, both NFL players now, recently were caught on film wearing hats that say “Free Hernandez.”  This became a story in the media.  Are these men not entitled to their opinions?  They’ve basically been reprimanded for standing up for a friend, who – again – may or may not be guilty.  What’s wrong with showing some support?  Aaron Hernandez has not been convicted of anything; he is entitled to the support of his friends and family, is he not?

More recently, the reaction to the Martin/Zimmerman verdict has been somewhat unsettling, as well, with plenty of snarky remarks about vigilante justice being made.

Does public opinion overrule the courts now?

Are we not innocent until proven guilty?  Are we not innocent if we are acquitted?

I recently read “Idiot America” by Charles Pierce; he said in it that one of the Great Premises of Idiot America is that if something is said loud enough often enough, it becomes true.  No other era has held opinion so valued and so powerful as we do now, where everyone with the gumption can have a blog, and everyone who finds enough volume can propel their ideas out across the digital vacuum and beyond.  That does not make someone an expert, and it does not make the media the place to hold trials.

We are innocent until proven guilty, and innocent if we are acquitted.  That is a core tenet of justice in this country.  Where has it gone?

On Turning 29

Today is my birthday, and as part of that, I’ve decided to start this blog.  In truth, I’m a terrible blogger.  I think much faster than I type or write, and often don’t want to retread my thoughts for the sole purpose of written recording.  If no one else is going to read it or care, why bother?  But who knows – this will be a multi-purpose blog, so perhaps people will read it for one thing and find value in another.

Aging is a tricky thing.  We feel young for so long and, in truth, we are.  But there are always signs that we’re not anymore.  Iconic sports figures from childhood retire.  Actors that we grew up watching die.  Musicians we listened to die.  Our friends start having babies, signalling that the next generation is starting… signalling that we’ve become old and outdated.  Youth is a feeling of perpetual invincibility; the knowledge that tomorrow can always be a better day, that we’re always improving from a biological standpoint.  Even if we don’t know this consciously, the idea is imbedded in us – a 19-year-old is not worried about how much harder it’ll be to get those six-pack abs when they’re 20, for example.  But as we age up, those concerns creep in.  The knowledge that tomorrow may not, in fact, be a better day; that our bodies have gone from a state of perpetual growth and improvement to the beginning of slow and steady decay.  Those six-pack abs, as a 29-year-old, are more accessible right now than they will be as a 30-year-old.  Our bodies are starting to work against us.  It’s not that this is a condemnation of aging or that we’re suddenly geriatric at 30; it’s simply the noting of a paradigm shift in the way we think of ourselves.  To spend a quarter-century with the knowledge that our bodies and minds are working in our favor and then suddenly start to realize that’s changing… it’s a significant change in life.

I don’t know if the previous generation had expectations the way mine did.  We grew up being told how successful we’d be and being encouraged to make 5-year plans starting in middle school.  We weren’t quite the generation of “there is no second place; everyone’s a winner” mind you, but we were a generation accustomed to a certain degree of affluence.  Not a financial affluence, but a sort of… affluence of hope; it was the 1990s, America was on top of the world, and our parents had been one of the most successful generations in history as the American middle class boomed.  Life was our plan and the world our oyster.  Until the bottom fell out, of course.

I never planned to be a wanderer.  In fact, between my sister and I, no one would have predicted that she’d remain in Michigan while I lived in three different states over a span of six years.  But if life has taught me anything since I graduated from college, it’s that things rarely go as planned.  Whatever plans I had growing up have been tossed aside and shredded.  I’m not really sure I had plans, per se, but I certainly had expectations.  Our parents were the middle class; I think, if nothing else, expected to find jobs that we could hold and count on, at least a bit, while we nurtured dreams before we had families.  I never found that job and, in all fairness, never really nurtured my dreams so much as I simply expected them to happen.  They never did.  My greatest fortune over the past four years or so was that I met the woman who became my wife; the unfortunate flip-side to that was that as I finally gained a level of stability in my life again, circumstances in her life forced a temporary move (for 2 years) and, therefore, a return to wandering.

Perhaps the mistake of my generation, the great conceit we have, is that we assume life doesn’t happen to us, rather that we happen to life.  Growing up, it’s fair to say that I always believed I could effect the changes I wanted and life would sort of bend to my will.  That’s really not the case.  A lot of life is how we deal with what happens to us, rather than what we actually make happen.  But what little we can effect – we have to make good on.  That’s been where I’ve erred in my adult life so far, I think; I have not made good on the opportunities I’ve had to effect my own life.  I turn 29 today and begin my 4th decade of life; I am bad with resolutions, but I think to have the life I’ve always wanted, or at least some shade of it, I need to promise or otherwise pledge to myself that I will do better going forward at making good on the things I can effect, lest I wander in quiet desperation for another ten years.